When CBC investigative journalist Connie Walker worked in television, she always felt like she was fighting for seconds, trying to cram a complex story into the available slot, which might be no more than 30 seconds. Then, along came the podcast boom.
“For the last few years, it’s been amazing to me that there are millions of people out there who want to put something in their ear and listen for hours,” Walker said.
In her award-winning podcast Missing & Murdered, Walker and her team spend an entire season — hours and hours of listening — on the story of just one woman among the many indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered across North America. Over the course of the series, she weaves in the complex history and the factors that have contributed to the issue, including systematic state violence toward indigenous people.
“True crime is kind of a dirty word — but I am here to make the case that the narrative podcast focusing on true crime is really an important way to tell bigger picture stories,” Walker told attendees at the 11th Global Investigative Journalism Conference. “This podcast was the culmination of a few years of investigative journalism that we did about this issue of violence against indigenous women and girls and, by far, it had the most impact in helping people understand the root of this issue.”
Walker’s fellow panelists were similarly convinced by the power of this format as they talked about how they turned their investigations into impactful and award-winning podcasts in Canada, United States, France and Germany.
Giulio Rubino, an investigative reporter with Italy’s Correct!v, is currently working on his first podcast, Verified, which is due to come out this November. It tells the story of a serial rapist in Italy who used the social network homestay site CouchSurfing to lure women from all over the world to his home to drug and assault them. The real story, however, is how the survivors joined forces and began a battle to bring him to justice. Rubino and his colleagues have been reporting on this story since 2013. When they began transforming it into a podcast, the trial was just beginning. Rubino said the serialized format of podcasts make it a perfect medium to capture the many twists and turns of an investigation.
“We had the amazing chance to do this as a podcast while the trial was ongoing and the outcome was uncertain. It was amazing how well this story fit to this new medium,” he said.
He also appreciated the way that the podcast format allowed time for listeners to get to know the characters involved and really care about what happens to them.
“The way you could reach a level of intimacy with the characters was completely unknown to me,” Rubino said.
Walker agreed that the podcast format allows listeners to bond with the characters.
“One of the best things about the podcast is that we were able to create a space so the audience could have empathy and get to know a family,” Walker said.
Check out the power of podcasts for yourself by listening to some of the investigative podcasts featured at #GIJC19.
Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo, CBC News, Canada
The CBC News podcast Missing & Murdered, hosted by investigative journalist Connie Walker, delves deep into the human stories of the epidemic of indigenous women who have gone missing or have been murdered . The second season, which won “best serialized story” at the 2018 Third Coast Audio Festival, follows a family searching for their missing sister, Cleo. The six siblings were taken by child welfare authorities in Canada in the 1970s and then adopted into white families across North America. Five of them have reconnected, but they still don’t know what happened to Cleo.
Verified (November 2019), Scripps & Stitcher
During the panel, Susanne Reber, executive producer at Scripps Washington Bureau, played a trailer for “Verified,” an investigative podcast set for release in November. The first season of the series tells the story of a serial rapist in Italy who preyed on female CouchSurfing users from all over the world. For the most part, the women were ignored when they went to the police, but that wasn’t the end of the story — because the survivors fought back. “It’s an empowerment story,” said Reber. “It’s about women fighting the system.” Reporters Alessia Cerantola and Giulio Rubino have been investigating this story with another colleague since 2013.
1000 Degrés (1000 Degrees), Insider Media, France
With the arrival of Insider Podcast on the scene, francophones will now have the pleasure of following the twists and turns of a true crime podcast. The series 1000 Degrés, released in May 2019, has been billed as France’s very first investigative podcast.
Join journalists Adèle Humbert and Émilie Denètre as they investigate a famous case involving a package bomb that exploded in front of a small shop in France in 1994. The man imprisoned for the crime spent nearly two decades behind bars but maintains his innocence to this day.
Paradise Papers, NDR, Germany
When millions of confidential documents about offshore investments by the world’s elite were leaked to two German reporters, they decided to share the so-called “Paradise Papers” with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a network of more than 380 journalists all around the world. For German speakers who want to hear the ins-and-outs of the global investigation, NDR journalist Benedikt Strunz and his colleague Philipp Eckstein created the five-part series Paradise Papers. “We wanted to make the audience be a witness to our investigation, to see how investigative journalists work,” Strunz said. “In a time of fake news, it is important to make investigations transparent.”
Brenna Daldorph is a freelance audio producer and journalist, based in London (after growing up in Kansas and spending many years in Paris). She often works for PRI’s The World and The Guardian. Many of her stories focus on trauma and resilience among children and young people. In the past few years, she’s reported from Kenya, the Central African Republic, and Nigeria. More than anything else, she has a penchant for stories about people.